The Phoenix Flyer

Some in FL take offense to Gov. DeSantis cheerleading for Israel

By: - May 30, 2019 4:11 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis visits Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Israel’s memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, on May 30, 2019. Source: Governor’s office.

Gov. Ron DeSantis should cease “kissing up” to the Israeli government, a spokesman for an Islamic-rights organization said as the governor and Florida Cabinet continued their tour of Israel Thursday.

“Ron DeSantis appears to think that the people of Florida elected him to serve as the press secretary for a foreign government,” Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, Florida communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the Florida Phoenix via email.

“He is the governor of the state of Florida, not the spokesperson for Benjamin Netanyahu. Gov. DeSantis should stop kissing up to the Israeli government, come back home, and get to work for the people of Florida,” Ruiz said.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat who is the only Iranian-American ever elected to public office in Florida, meanwhile, “was proud” to support the antisemitism bill that DeSantis signed into law while in Israel. The legislation cracks down on anti-Jewish bias in state public schools, colleges, and universities.

She argued, however, that rising antisemitism is “also grounded in the growth of white supremacy under President Trump” – a political patron to the governor. “And you can’t deny that,” she said.

The high ratio of lobbyists among the attendees “speaks more to a politically motivated trip than one that is actually designed to promote peace in the Middle East,” Eskamani said in a telephone interview.

“I would just raise caution as to what is the intent and what’s the impact of your language. As someone who believes firmly in debate, discourse, human rights – and also ensuring that we are creating an environment where everyone’s perspective is heard and respected – it just seems like this trip is not building that type of environment.”

DeSantis has been leading a 98-member trip to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, including the three members of the elected Florida Cabinet, state agency chiefs and key aides, business people and lobbyists, and Jewish religious leaders and philanthropists. Thursday was the final working day for the tour.

The governor and Cabinet met for 40 minutes Wednesday in an annex to the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. DeSantis he meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday evening.

Ruiz from the Council on American-Islamic Relations didn’t object to the trade relations aspect of the trip, which has established links with Israeli universities, research institutions, and technology businesses. Similar missions have happened for years, he acknowledged.

“This went beyond that,” Ruiz said in telephone interview. “Governors are not to play international politics. Governors are to govern their states. It’s an inappropriate intrusion into matters that are not Florida matters.”

DeSantis repeatedly says he wants to be seen as the most pro-Israel governor in the United States and is openly sympathetic to its side of the dispute with Palestinian Arabs. “They’re the only country in the region that shares our values – that has a democratic form of government and that’s really been successful,” the governor told reporters in Israel.

“And yet their enemies play for keeps. If their enemies had the wherewithal to drive Israel into the sea, they would do it,” DeSantis said. “If Iran could wipe Israel off the map tomorrow, they would be willing to do it. We’ve got to understand that’s out there, and we’ve got to remain tough.”

To Ruiz, however, “the whole purpose is to try to divide the Jewish community that in past years have been, the vast majority of them, identified with the Democratic Party.”

Ruiz, a native of Puerto Rico who converted to Islam, is a former JAG attorney and chaplain for the U.S. Navy, according to his bio on the CAIR webpage. DeSantis, too, was a Navy JAG lawyer.

“All state business should be conducted in Florida. We don’t think Florida needs to be having any business out of state in any country, not just Israel,” he said.

Note: This article article has been updated.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.